Aki 2022: A (very lengthy) 42 Man Review

After the Haru basho, I set out to review all 42 of the rikishi in Makuuchi and assess their performance. It was a well intentioned and horrifying experience to take on the challenge of analysing over three dozen members of the top division in one post. Scarred from that moment, I allowed half a year to pass, until, watching the now-completed Aki basho, I decided to do it again (and foolishly all in one post)…

M16W Hiradoumi (7-8)

Hiradoumi made his debut in the top division in this tournament. If this was your first time watching him, you will have noticed he has something very much in common with old timers like Myogiryu, Sadanoumi, and the dearly departed Goeido: his style of sumo is a very fast tachiai from which he wants to get both hands inside and from there, he’s comfortable winning either via yorikiri or oshidashi (for a young rikishi, where normally one’s kimarite is skewed very heavily towards either yotsu or oshi techniques, this is notable). The other thing Hiradoumi has in common with the aforementioned rikishi is that they all hail from the same heya. It might be worth a deeper dive in the future into Sakaigawa-oyakata’s coaching as he enters the final five years of his tenure. In any case, I think this basho will go down as a disappointment for Hiradoumi only in the sense that he started so brightly. He had only faced five of his opponents previously, and lost three of those matches, and somewhere along the way his new competition will have worked out that he is – at this stage of his development anyway – a less skilled version of the seniors in his heya. It will be good if he can bounce back (presumably from Juryo) and take the next step.

M16E Mitoryu (5-10)

Out of the two top division debutants, I expected Mitoryu to struggle more on account of his physical limitations and the difficulty he had progressing through Juryo over the past several years, the uncompetitive nature of his heya and the fact that he’s never truly shown the ability to dominate the opposition. Unlike Hiradoumi, I think it may be a while before Mitoryu returns to the top division, depending on the severity of his demotion. Even taking into account the matches he did win, I find it very difficult to make him the favourite for bouts against any style of competitor due to his rather plodding movement and power which appears to have been zapped by injury. However, such is the composition of the lower half of makuuchi right now (10 of the lowest 12 rankers all having make-koshi) that it’s anyone’s guess.

M15W Tsurugisho (5-10)

Tsurugisho is another guy who made his top division presence known after a long run in Juryo and that presence was probably largely due in hindsight to the retirements of a number of makuuchi long timers. I think it’s probably clear to say now that he hasn’t taken his chances and, at 31, will probably be a yo-yo guy between the two divisions over the next couple years. He’s likely too good for Juryo at this point but I don’t think, given that 3 of his 11 stabs at the top division have ended with a winning record, that we should expect too much more than what he gave us at Aki in the future.

M15E Terutsuyoshi (6-9)

The last 14 months have given Terutsuyoshi a pretty torrid time on the dohyo, with only one kachi-koshi now in seven basho, but I think he’s likely to be saved from demotion to Juryo after 21 straight top division appearances due to the incompetence of others around him and the lack of real promotable candidates. But he’s going to need to bring more next time, I think his opponents have largely figured him out and he’s missing the dynamism and surprise element of his early top division appearances.

M14W Yutakayama (4-11)

I don’t love the fact that I’m having to be so consistently negative about rikishi performance to start this review, but that’s what happens when get you a bunch of middling-to-hapless performances all in a row. It’s easy to blame Yutakayama’s injuries for stealing the power he displayed in his early makuuchi appearances, but it’s fairly clear now that the rikishi we saw before his late 2018 injury is not the rikishi we are going to have going forward, and it’s totally unfair to him to measure him against that level. He has been ranked for two full years between the bottom of makuuchi and the top of Juryo and while it’s not surprising to see him fail to be competitive even at the rank of M14, it is disheartening when we all saw earlier in his career what his capabilities used to be.

M14E Chiyoshoma (9-6)

The first kachi-koshi of the top division and, to be honest, while he’s always good for a flying henka, Chiyoshoma displayed plenty of competent sumo during the Aki basho and mixed in a fair few different kimarite. It’s nice to see it’s not just the younger guns like Kiribayama or Hoshoryu who can win via sotogake (as Mitoryu found out). He’ll be relieved to arrest a slide of four straight losing tournaments, and as long as he doesn’t benefit from crazy banzuke luck in Fukuoka, he might have a chance to make it two KK on the spin.

M13W Oho (7-8)

Kintamayama commented often about Oho’s consistent inability to get his 8th win, suggesting there’s a mental block somewhere that is lowering his projected ceiling. I think that shouldn’t overshadow a largely solid tournament from the youngster, but when you start a basho 5-0 that’s completely up for grabs with the sanyaku floundering, it is fairly shocking to not even see that seen through for a winning record. And Kintamayama’s comments are accurate by the way: his last year of sumo makes grim reading, having been 7-6 at Aki 2021 only to finish 7-8, 7-3 at Hatsu only to finish 7-8, 5-5 at Haru and then dropping 4 of his last 5 to finish 6-9, started 7-4 at Nagoya and dropped 3 of 4 to scrape through with an 8-7, and then started this tournament 5-0 and 7-3 only to lose his last five straight. He has of course had some other successes during that time, but it’s not like he’s consistently overmatched, he is starting most tournaments very competitively and then throwing away his chances at rapid progression. This may yet help him in the long run, as he’s still only 22 and hasn’t really developed a single dominant skill to his sumo beyond “is strong and powerful.” Still, heart has been said to be more important to rikishi than technique or physique and he’s going to need to find a way not to repeat these late basho collapses.

M13E Ichiyamamoto (6-9)

You can probably repeat some of what was said for Oho here for Ichiyamamoto, as he’s also displaying a worrying tendency recently to backslide in the final furlongs. Unlike Oho, however, time is not on the soon-to-be 29 year old’s side. The good news for all of us is that in the event that he only drops to somewhere around M15, he might get a chance to finally get that long awaited bout with Abi in Fukuoka!

M12W Ryuden (11-4, Jun-Yusho)

In some respects it’s a little surprising to see Ryuden with a share of the runners-up accolades having stuttered to a 1-4 start, but being heavily under-ranked, he was always likely to dominate his opposition as he did over his ten straight wins to finish out the tournament. His typically tenacious and ‘never give up’ attitude turned a couple of those matches in his favour, though I do wonder if, like Abi before him, this would have been his best chance to really factor in the yusho conversation from a rank where he could dine on a smorgasbord of less qualified opponents. In that sense, the runners-up notation is slightly misleading in that while he is legitimately a runner-up, he never factored in the yusho arasoi at any point due to the series of early losses which took him fully out of contention. While only a fool would bet against a kachi-koshi from him in Fukuoka, he’ll come up against a slightly higher-skilled and in some cases more desperate collection of opponents, which might limit him to a 9-6 or 10-5.

M12E Okinoumi (6-9)

You’d be crazy to write off the highly technical veteran, but this is the lowest rank at which he’s had a make-koshi in 9 years. Tamawashi’s success has showed us age is no impediment in this division, but Okinoumi has made a habit of pulling a kachi-koshi out of the hat to halt a run of losing tournaments and prolong his top division career by an extra 4 or 6 months. Kyushu may be his last opportunity to do that, and a losing record there may signal the end of an outstanding career, as he’ll have the opportunity to compete one more time in front of potentially a selection of local fans (while he’s not from Kyushu, Shimane prefecture is near to the November tournament, and it has just been reported that his elder stock – which had been on loan to ex-Kotoyuki – has now been vacated). While many top division stalwarts of the last decade were deprived to give their local fans something to cheer about one last time (Kotoshogiku, Ikioi, Goeido) before hanging up the mawashi, that’s at least something to look forward to in the upcoming tournament, and hopefully Okinoumi can conjure up one more solid performance from the division’s basement.

M11W Chiyotairyu (6-9)

Chiyotairyū is streaky and had an awful start to this tournament, but deserves a lot of credit for turning it around in the second week. Technically we know he’s going to deliver a cannonball tachiai and then set up for a pull down, and it’s a risky business to be in but it’s what he’s got. He’ll be 34 at the start of the next basho and has been in the top division for over 10 years with just a few short spells in Juryo, and probably has just a few more chances to prolong his top division career. He only has one winning tournament from the last eight, so the big question mark for stats fans will be whether he’s able to secure the kachi-koshi in Fukuoka in his 58th top division tournament that would almost certainly guarantee him to reach 60, the point at which a sumo elder qualifies to some-day open their own heya. Whether or not Chiyotairyu harbours that ambition or the resources is another matter, but there are less members of the kyokai to have reached that landmark than you might think, and it’s one of the more intriguing numbers for stats heads to watch out for in the next six months.

M11E Kotoshoho (7-8)

Kotoshoho’s fall from prospect to non-prospect status has been shocking, but it seems likely at this point that he’s another one of the guys in the category of Onosho and Yutakayama to have blitzed their way up to the joi upon their arrival in the division, only to get an injury and not return looking anything like the irrepressible force that got them there. The good news with Kotoshoho is that at 23, time is on his side, but someone with his ability is continuing to underperform at this rank and he’ll have to reload and give it another go in November. Now that it looks like there may be a stronger group of prospects forming around Juryo and upper Makushita, he may be in danger of washing out.

M10W Takanosho (8-7)

While I don’t think the Ozeki conversation around Onigiri-kun was ever especially realistic, he acquitted himself very well in the sanyaku ranks and looked to be a mainstay in the upper reaches of the banzuke before July’s kyujo dropped him into the nether regions of makuuchi, an area he hadn’t experienced in nearly 3 years since he rejoined the top division. Takanosho showed flashes of his ability upon return from injury, with his 3-0 start potentially signalling a title challenge. But he was also very streaky, and while he did give us a succession of entertaining bouts, he struggled to best those on form: he finished 7-1 against rikishi with losing records, while going 1-6 against rikishi with winning records. His ascent to Sekiwake was built on his ability to upset, and he will need to recapture it.

M10E Nishikifuji (10-5)

This was a big tournament for the latest in the long line of Isegahama products, and much more impressive than last basho’s 10-5, which was augmented by no fewer than three late fusen-sho among the covid withdrawal chaos. The yoritaoshi win over Tochinoshin on Day 8 was a particular highlight of this basho – it takes a brave rikishi to go chest to chest with the former Ozeki, whatever his condition – so to win via frontal crush-out, overpowering the one time yusho winner, was an incredible result. I always had his ceiling higher than Midorifuji, and while he’s taken longer to come good, he looks to be someone who can be a joi fixture sooner than later.

M9W Kotoeko (6-9)

Kotoeko has great fighting spirit but this was a bit of a blah tournament from him if we’re honest. There’s nothing in his results that stood out particularly for me, and the rank/result combination feels about right. Can move swiftly on…

M9E Myogiryu (8-7)

It’s a second straight kachi-koshi following four consecutive losing tournaments for the veteran. He doesn’t quite have the power from the tachiai these days but it is notable that even at nearly 36 years old he still has the speed to be able to defeat opponents who want the mawashi. His game – like that of stablemates Sadanoumi and Hiradoumi (and as we’ve covered, ex-Goeido) is modelled all around bursting inside from the initial charge. While they all have different preferences of finishing manoeuvres and Myogiryu has been more of a thruster than the rest of that lot, it is curious that his wins in this basho came – apart from Aoiyama – against opponents who will have invited him in.

M8W Hokutofuji (10-5)

Double digit wins is a great result, but there’s no question after his 9-0 start that everyone should have expected much more from the former top prospect in this basho. Hokutofuji had a real chance to challenge for his first yusho, and the way he fell from the pack in the second week was tough to watch. His opponents were much tougher down the stretch and that leads me to temper expectations for his eventual joi return – I think a kachi-koshi would be a wonderful result in November and it will be curious to see whether there is a lasting mental impact as a result of his 1-5 finish from a position of tournament leader. On the plus side, the improvement in his overall lower body balance has kept him in matches that he would have lost earlier in his career. The defeat to Takakeisho’s henka was particularly tough to watch, but more of that later.

M8E Tochinoshin (7-8)

It’s another creditable result for the former Ozeki who sometimes shows displays of incredible strength and dominance, and other times shows why he’s been mired in the bottom half of the division for the past couple of years. The senshuraku victory over a san’yaku opponent in the fading Ichinojo will rank as a rare highlight of the basho, but it’s still hard to watch the injury-plagued veteran struggle to put away lesser talents who would haven’t been deemed fit to tie his mawashi in years gone by. It’s been reported elsewhere that he’s committed to staying in the sport as long as possible to support his obligations back home in Georgia, so we should be able to enjoy him in the top division for some time yet. With five of his last seven basho being decided by the odd result, he seems fairly stable, health permitting.

M7W Onosho (5-10)

This is the first result that looks really perplexing to me, where the numbers just don’t quite match the eye test. I couldn’t help but think over the first week especially that Onosho looked better than he had in a really long time, with powerful oshi-zumo and a real fighting spirit. The results didn’t match though, and he went into nakabi at 2-5. He’s always going to suffer cheap losses on account of his style, but it’s tough to see the dimming of a star that once burned bright. It certainly didn’t look like this record was down to injury, he just wasn’t able to get the results and the make-koshi-sealing loss to Mitoryu in particular has got to rankle. After a 10-5 at M15 last time, I would back Onosho to bounce back in Kyushu from a lower rank.

M7E Aoiyama (6-9)

Big Dan looked hopeless in the first week, so credit where it’s due for finding the genki in the second week. He started 1-7, the win being a cheap pickup from Onosho. It’s notable however that he benefited hugely in his 5-2 finish from facing much lower ranked opposition, although that may stand him in better stead for November. At 36 however, he does appear to be on borrowed time.

M6W Endo (7-8)

This is the opposite of my reaction to Onosho’s result, as Endo – especially through the first week – looked awful. I can’t remember seeing a match I would have picked him to win before the tachiai, so how he’s come within a win of a kachi-koshi is beyond me. He’s still one of sumo’s real technical experts who can summon a magic moment from time to time, but there are just too many days where he shows up without fundamentals and gets blown away by tsuki-oshi sumo. Credit where it’s due for landing a white star from an Ozeki, although the less said about that opponent, the better. Endo is 32 this month and it wouldn’t be too surprising to see him fade into the middle of the pack.

M6E Wakamotoharu (10-5)

If only his brother knew how to start like him! It’s four KK in five for the Arashio-beya product, this time with a blistering 4-0 start that featured not one, but a pair of victories with the (somewhat) rare fisherman’s throw. It’s worth remembering Wakamotoharu is a sumo veteran despite his mere five makuuchi basho, but it’s very notable that he’s not preying on kids: some of his most impressive victories were racked up from the division’s elder statesmen (and Mitakeumi). If he keeps himself fit, he’s probably got a nice 1-2 year window to push his luck and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him ride the elevator up to Komusubi since he doesn’t seem to be fazed by the higher rankers whatsoever. I’d go as far as to say, after three 9-6s and a 10-5 in five tournaments, that there’s a question whether the more vaunted Kiribayama and Hoshoryu could better his combination of ability and consistency – it’s going to be a riveting angle to watch over the next couple basho.

M5W Sadanoumi (9-6)

Credit where it’s due. Last time I did one of these, I marked out Sadanoumi as a symptom of the division’s decline, but he’s been mostly brilliant in the last three tournaments and I actually found this to be a more enjoyable basho from him than the jun-yusho from May. He displayed impressive speed at 35, but unlike his stablemate Myogiryu, he’s going to try and execute more throws – which sometimes leave him a bit vulnerable at the edge (see: Wakamotoharu’s utchari). For him to take out Mitakeumi, Hoshoryu and Tochinoshin in a three bout stretch in the middle of the basho is marvellous. I don’t think it’s sustainable given his age and fitness record but you have to hold your hands up, he had a wonderful and entertaining basho.

M5E Takarafuji (5-10)

OK, listen: there’s no excuse for a make-koshi on day 9, and Takarafuji looked awful in that first week. In fact, this was his fourth consecutive tournament where he’s been at 5 losses or more by the middle weekend, and it arguably could have been worse if he didn’t conjure up a win against Aoiyama in the middle of his first eight losses. That all being said, he’s been able to stem the bleeding in these last 4 basho by beating a generous swathe of very low ranked opponents (claiming his kachi-koshi last time out against juryo guys in the weird Nagoya basho). He’s obviously not right physically and not able to “defend and extend” and commit the power that’s required to execute his brand of counter-attacking sumo. That said, his ability to grind out wins against poor opponents is what continues to extend the 35 year old’s career. For how much longer, is to be seen.

M4W Takayasu (11-4, Jun-Yusho & Kanto-sho)

I said in the Tachiai podcast before the basho that I expected “a big tournament” from Takayasu where he would challenge, but maybe not win the yusho. It’s good when you look like you know what you’re talking about. He always seems to benefit more than most from an extended rest, and coming on the back of a kyujo Nagoya, it was easy to predict a double digit result. In fact, I’d say he had a pretty flawless first week, apart from getting Ura’d by weird sumo. The senshuraku shootout loss, coming when he had his destiny to force a yusho playoff in his hands, was easy to foresee but hard to watch. The subsequent grimace in defeat was telling of a man who knew, yet again, he couldn’t shake the bridesmaid tag. Ultimately he simply had no answer for Tamawashi’s powerful nodowa-based attack, but his smiles and graciousness backstage with the victor afterwards showed a competitor and sumotori worthy of his place at the sport’s top table.

M4E Nishikigi (6-9)

The thing about him is his ability to always get us thinking “what if…”? Nishikigi is able to put together freak results, which is always possible when your sumo strategy is largely based around wrapping the opponent up and wringing them either way until they’re immobile. He’s a bit streaky though, and just couldn’t get his sumo together after an impressive Ozeki scalp (even if that Ozeki was Shodai). He didn’t show enough against higher ranked opposition here (1-6 vs san’yaku, 3-1 vs lower rankers) though to prove himself deserving of a spot in the joi, and I think mid-maegashira might be as good as it gets from here. With a new talent infusion due in makuuchi, it seems unlikely he will get many more chances from this rank in the future.

M3W Ura (8-7)

Hard to find fault with Ura’s results at this level, another basho with another spectacular win (the tsutaezori on Day 4 against Takarafuji) and a second kinboshi against the hobbled Yokozuna, which will be career-altering for a rikishi who spent so many prime years outside of the top division recovering from injury. Add in the kimedashi against Midorifuji, and you’d expect he won’t be invited over for chanko at Isegahama-beya anytime soon. His 4-5 record against the san’yaku indicates he continues to be a thorn in the side of the top rankers.

M3E Tamawashi (13-2, Yusho, Shukun-sho)

We’re running out of superlatives for the soon-to-be 38 year old, sumo’s oldest ever champion. Tamawashi started hot, winning his first three bouts for the third consecutive tournament, and was never out of touching distance of the leadership of the title race. Both his losses were dealt by the Onami brothers (against whom he is now a combined 2-7), though while he is still susceptible to skilled belt practitioners, his thrusting attack was just too powerful for the rest of the field. While the Yokozuna was clearly injured, Tamawashi’s recent dominance over Terunofuji – the best rikishi of the past few years – is remarkable, as he knocked out his 4th kinboshi in 5 tournaments from the Yokozuna and the 7th gold star of his career. It felt like Tamawashi won this title twice: first on Day 11 when he claimed sole leadership by dealing Hokutofuji’s chances a hammer blow, and then again on senshuraku when his nodowa attack simply overpowered Takayasu. Tamawashi can of course be beaten by another rikishi on their day, but it says much about the veteran that it just didn’t ever seem likely that Takayasu would be able to beat him twice, even if he forced the playoff. A much deserved yusho to further decorate a remarkable career for the iron man.

M2W Meisei (8-7)

Meisei had a quietly sneaky good end to the basho, with five straight mostly unmemorable wins to grab his kachi-koshi on senshuraku. He belongs at this level and it was frankly jarring to see him in the nether regions of the division following his horrific 1-14 at Haru. It had felt like this basho might end up in similar fashion with a heavy make-koshi after a really tough first week of the tournament, so he deserves a lot of credit for powering through.

M2E Kotonowaka (8-7)

Kotonowaka was another of the three rikishi I tipped for a big basho, so in some ways his narrow kachi-koshi seems a bit disappointing as a result of him dropping 3 of the last 4 matches, including two to lower rankers. His 5-4 result against the san’yaku shows he has got what it takes to tango at the upper levels of the division, as his physicality is very difficult for almost all opponents to deal with, and his belt skills are continuing to improve basho on basho. It’s worth noting he’s now posted more wins than losses in five consecutive tournaments.

M1W Midorifuji (7-8)

I had him nailed on for a 6-9 or even a 5-10, so at face value he’s done well to get himself to within a win of a kachi-koshi. On the other hand, the fact he posted his last two wins against significantly lower ranked opponents, having already sealed his make-koshi, is slightly misleading. By and large he performed as expected against opponents of similar rank: largely overmatched but with the ability to deploy his famous katasukashi and other mobility-driven techniques to spring the odd shock. He was seeing a lot of top-ranking opponents for the first time, and his creditable score means he’ll see them again in Fukuoka, so I expect some regression to the mean next time out.

M1E Tobizaru (10-5, Shukun-sho)

Sometimes you have to hold your hand up and admit you were wrong, and I had Tobizaru pegged for the reverse score in our pre-basho podcast. While the poor state of his opponents can be blamed (particularly a number of the san’yaku he deposed), he deserves an awful lot of credit for dialing up the genki and raising the level of his ability to operate as a chaos agent. It’s undoubtable now that his sumo technique has improved. That said, his defining characteristic is his ability to unsettle the opposition by way of his remarkable speed and movement. The risk is that when he does get whomped, as he did by the yusho winner on the final weekend, the Flying Monkey can exit the dohyo in a manner that could risk an injury that could eventually sap his mobility. Still, he’s primed for a much deserved san’yaku role in Kyushu. He continues to be enjoyable to watch, and awfully easy to root for.

K2W Kiribayama (9-6)

It’s refreshing to see a rikishi who can be reliable at this level and that you feel you can believe in. While there won’t be room in Fukuoka, it’s clear that Kiribayama has the ability to go higher in the banzuke, and it was good to see him fight successfully at the san’yaku level for the first time. That’s four straight winning records, and his budding rivalry with Hoshoryu looks like it may deliver riveting sumo for fans for the next several years.

K1W Ichinojo (6-9)

We were always likely to see the post-yusho dip here, as Ichinojo is practically famous for fading from view when the oxygen starts to get a bit thin in the lofty heights of the san’yaku ranks. He still gets up for the big matches and was able to notch a couple Ozeki scalps, but his surprising shonichi push-out of Takakeisho proved to be a false dawn as he went on to lose 6 of 7. With Terunofuji looking unlikely to return in November, Ichinojo’s bid to add to his 9 kinboshi will have to wait, but this result seemed par for the course and normal service will likely be resumed with the giant alternating between the top maegashira and lower san’yaku ranks as space permits over the coming tournaments.

K1E Abi (0-0-15)

Did not participate and it will be curious to see what shape he’s in upon his recovery from specialist intervention, as he’s largely looked to have been in career-best form prior to the injury.

S2E Daieisho (7-8)

At first glance, when you look upwards it’s hard not to see the make-koshi as a disappointment, but he did remarkably well to rebound from a 1-6 start, even if he had help from a couple poor Ozeki and a walkover win from the Yokozuna’s kyujo. It’s hard to judge this record accurately, as he wasn’t scheduled against the top performers in san’yaku on account of his poor record heading into the second week. In that context, I would view his performance in the tournament slightly more negatively, but while he certainly wasn’t on song in September, he still very much belongs among the top men in the sport.

S1W Hoshoryu (8-7)

Some of us have taken some stick from Hoshoryu fans in the comments for being “anti-Hoshoryu,” but there’s a huge difference between that and pointing out the flaws of a developing rikishi. Especially one with a gigantic internet sized hype train thinking he’s the next Yokozuna. I pointed out in the tachiai podcast before the tournament that he’s exactly at the rank he deserves and is as consistent as you like with a 55% win rate which puts him between 8-7 and 9-6 on average, and he turned in another 8-7 this time out. For sure, he is capable of stunning, emphatic victories and technical marvel and his two wins over the Ozeki in this basho (plus the sotogake against Ichinojo) were examples of that. His matches against Kiribayama are absolutely fascinating. But the lingering fact remains that there’s just something missing mentally that actually reminds me a bit of Endo and Ichinojo in the sense that, with 6 of his 7 losses coming against rank and file opposition, he shows up when the lights are brightest but can’t seem to put it together against the guys he’s supposed to beat. And that’s a problem when you’re talking about someone with Ozeki potential. You need 70% win rate over 3 tournaments to get to that level, and the next year will tell us a lot about whether Hoshoryu has it in his locker to take the next step. Still, when you look at the guys in the rank above, he deserves credit for fighting successfully at his rank.

S1E Wakatakakage (11-4, Jun-yusho, Gino-Sho)

Imagine if he could just get started on time! Out of his 14 active makuuchi basho, only 4 times has he not lost 2 of the first 3 matches. That’s crazy!!! This time he went 0-3 before reeling off 8 straight wins, with only a revenge defeat to Takayasu standing between him and a potential playoff (had results gone otherwise on senshuraku). Apart from the injury-impacted Yokozuna, he’s probably the most competent, consistent and impressive rikishi in the top division right now, but I’ve never seen a basho that starts on a Wednesday. It’s looking less like a coincidence that the tournament he started 3-0 ended in a yusho, and while we should be guarded about his prospects given the situation in the rank above, he is developing a trait seen many times in this basho where there feels like a certain inevitability he will win a match regardless of the circumstances he finds himself in. Having restarted his run, the bar has been reset, and double digit wins in Fukuoka is a must.

O2W Mitakeumi (4-11)

The reason this review is coming so long after the basho is because I just really didn’t want to write about the Ozeki. It’s easy to be the Monday Morning Quarterback about Mitakeumi’s situation, but whether he was suffering the effects of his shoulder injury as had been reported, or still suffering the after-effects of his covid infection, he was clearly so far off the level required to clear his kadoban status that he’d have been better served fully resting. Obviously, that is not the way sumo necessarily works due to any number of reasons. While he started 2-0 and landed a thunderous victory over Ura on Day 5, in truth the warning bells were going off as early as Day 3’s loss to Meisei and his listless 1-9 conclusion to the basho doesn’t bear thinking about. Mitakeumi was an Ozeki-in-waiting longer than most rikishi in recent memory but he’s now staring down the barrel of one of sumo’s most historically unimpressive tenures at the rank. Whatever the reason for that, he needs to find a solution in the next few weeks.

O1W Shodai (4-11)

Shodai actually has an Ozeki tenure longer than several notable names. But still, while he’s a figure of fun for his near constant kadoban status (he’s either had a make-koshi or needed to clear kadoban for the entirety of 2022), Aki felt like a new low. It goes without saying that 9 consecutive losses is unbecoming of the rank, and it was perplexing given that, once the pressure was off, Shodai actually finished somewhat strongly, going on a hot streak that was briefly interrupted by Hoshoryu’s stunning kubinage. Shodai clearly is a powerful, strong rikishi deserving of a place in the joi but it’s clear he’s uncomfortable and unable to consistently fight successfully at this rank. Now the question is: will he escape yet again?

O1E Takakeisho (10-5)

One could be forgiven for thinking we were in for a real disaster after Takakeisho’s opening day defeat to Ichinojo, but their fortunes would reverse after that and our favourite meatball hung around the edges of the yusho race until going down to Wakatakakage on Day 13. There are those who will think the sumo gods have a sharp sense of humour and/or justice and it’s notable that his 5th defeat came a day after his henka of challenger Hokutofuji. It’s a legal move, but it did seem unbecoming of an Ozeki (not as cheap of a shot as Terunofuji v Kotoshogiku because of the stakes, but it didn’t feel far off). Takakeisho may be shaping up as something of a flat track bully having gone 9-1 against the rank-and-filers, but given the situation with the Ozeki crew in general, that’s more than good enough.

Y Terunofuji (5-5-5)

The Yokozuna pulled out on Day 10, with his knees having been thoroughly abused in the preceding loss to Takayasu, but in truth he never looked mobile in this basho. While the kinboshi conceded to yusho-winner Tamawashi was notable for many reasons, it was one of four handed out by the Yokozuna, a rarely seen total for any Yokozuna in any basho (again, for a number of reasons). The word on the street is that he may take November off to heal, which would seem to be the correct thing to do (and also open up some potential wins for the troubled Ozeki/wake whose matches against the Yokozuna would be replaced with a rank-and-filer). We knew when Terunofuji completed his remarkable comeback that his time would always be limited, but hopefully he can heal and return for a strong 2023.

23 thoughts on “Aki 2022: A (very lengthy) 42 Man Review

  1. Many thanks Josh K!
    If Abi ends up around M10 – and assuming he is fully fit and recovered – we should probably expect him to rack up a bunch of wins in the first week and be amongst the yusho contenders. The last couple of tournaments when he was down amongst the rank and file (M15 and M6) he ended up going 12-3 and getting Jun-Yushos. With a bit of luck (and with continuing injury and mediocrity in the upper ranks) he might even go one better…. (Wishful thinking I know!)

  2. Another amazing opus, Josh! Hiradoumi just might get a second go at Makuuchi, given the paucity of candidates to replace him.

    • Cheers for the kind words. Admittedly I haven’t run the numbers, but wondering what chance we might have of a Christmas tree shaped san’yaku (1Y, 2O, 3S, 4K) for the upcoming winter banzuke. In that scenario, Hiradoumi would have to drop as his rank wouldn’t exist.

      With Daieisho 7-8, obviously he could drop to maegashira but normally would just drop to K. Also you have not only Tobizaru but Tamawashi with a strong Komusubi shout, even with Ichinojo and Abi dropping. So: Wakatakakage, Hoshoryu, Mitaekumi at S, Kiribayama, Daieisho, Tobizaru, Tamawashi at K – is this even plausible?

      • Yes, but that’s still 10 SY so the banzuke goes down to M16w, no? We had 1Y, 3O, 3S, 3K so just trading an O for a K.

        • Oh yeah, haha, woof.

          Curious if things do pan out that way or if they drop Daieisho further, which just feels super harsh

          • It used to be a thing, especially in the early 1990s when it happened 5 basho in a row (once all the way to M2), but it hasn’t happened since 1993, and there have been about 50 instances of a 7-8 Sekiwake since then.

  3. Also, it’s kind of ironic, given his recent cold starts, that Wakatakakage started his Makuuchi career 4-0 before having to withdraw due to injury.

  4. I’m ready for the next crop of Ozeki. At least Takakeisho is finding ways to win. Unfortunately, he’s having to pull out all the stops and rarely do we see any power in his tsuppari, resorting instead to slapdowns and sidesteps.

    • Yes, he has never played with full power after becoming Ozeki. It seems like the muscle and nerve injuries he sustained have permanently reduced his power output – without that burst of power, his brand of sumo doesn’t work well.

  5. Excellent review! I know that, whenever Shodai loses his ozeki rank, he will be seen as the worst ozeki to last [however many] years. And I always refer to Takakeisho as a bulldog and not a meatball, but I can see that too. :)

    • It will be curious how history judges him

      At face level, a rikishi is normally noted by their highest career rank, so the history books will note him as one of the top rikishi of his era. If he continues on as a coach or even a stable master, he’ll be known as the former yusho-winning Ozeki.

      By the stats, in terms of his longevity at the rank, especially if he clears kadoban next time out then you can speak about him in the same terms as the likes of Dejima, Baruto or Kirishima, and it’s notable he’ll have held the rank in any case longer than someone like Kaiketsu who went on to be a kyokai chairman.

      But then in terms of context, you can look at Dejima, Baruto and Kirishima and note that they were much more successful in terms of consistently securing winning records at the rank and also in a much more challenging period (apart from maybe Kirishima whose Ozeki tenure, like Shodai, coincided largely with the void after a period of dominant Yokozuna).

      So if you’re someone who looks back at his tenure historically, you may have a different view on it than someone who was watching it every basho at the time, as we are now. It will be interesting to see, whenever it is, how his time at Ozeki will end.

      • It’s like the old joke about what you call the person who graduated last in their medical school class—”doctor”

  6. Josh, thanks for taking the time to put out a detailed report like this. This was an entertaining basho – I will remember it for
    -> the oldest man winning the cup – I hope Tamawashi bids for Ozeki in the coming bashos
    -> Ura’s technical wizardy (e.g., his win over Takarafuji)
    -> Hoshoryu’s come from behind wins (e.g. against Takakeisho)
    –> and I am sure Kotonowaka is not going to forget the brutal beating he received from Takakeisho for a long time :)

    • I’m looking forward to the next installment of that Kotonowaka/Takakeisho rivalry. Would one lose face by breaking their hand on the face of an Ozeki?

  7. Waka2’s wins were Utchari (Backward Pivot Throw) rather than Amiuchi (Fisherman’s Throw) but glorious nonetheless. ‘motoharu is my favourite rikishi rn, especially after Takakeisho shamed his rank with that dirty henka against Hoku’.

    Thanks for the great read!

  8. Each and every review you are spot-on. Couldn’t agree more with it. As painful as it was seeing the Ozekis and Teru perform below expectations Aki was enjoyable to see.

  9. A fine overview, Josh. Thanks! What struck me about Tobizaru’s performance was how seldom he resorted to ‘flying monkey’ antics. He simply overpowered most of his opponents. Given that strength, I think we may see him hanging around these upper ranks for a while.

    • Yeah, I agree. It looked like he had a plan beyond confusion, and the confidence and patience to be able to implement that plan pretty consistently. One gin-and-tonic makes a summer not, but if he maintains this new-found prowess, he’s going to be a chore for the upper-echelon of wrestlers for some years to come.

      The curious thing is this has come at the end of some remarkable banzuke luck. In 2021/22 he’s had 7 make-koshi, with a total net-loss of -21 but a total net banzuke demotion of just 9 (including a 3-basho stint at M8). In contrast, his 3 kachi-koshi (not counting the most recent basho) have come with a net-win of just 9, but a total net banzuke promotion of 15!! So, he’s effected this turnaround at a time when he’s consistently been above the rank he probably should have been. I’m beginning to be a believer..

      • One thing to bear in mind – and our buddy lksumo is more of an authority on this than me so I will leave the algorithmics to him (I like eurythmics better) – is that due to the “zero sum” nature of sumo, and also where the KK and MK usually tend to fall, it’s totally normal especially in recent years for a KK to deliver a higher net promotion than a MK will deliver in a net demotion. Everything is obviously circumstantial to the specific basho.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.